It’s become one of the most popular tourist activities in London, on many ‘top 10’ lists of things to do in this historic city, along with the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. You can even find custom sales, like Expedia’s Jack the Ripper sale last Halloween that offered you an Expedia voucher code to save on your room reservation if you booked a trip to London on Halloween night.
On most evenings in London, rain or shine (and this being England, it’s most likely rain) you can find groups of people eagerly waiting to travel back in time for a couple of hours to the sinister and foggy streets of Victorian London.
Walking is a wonderful way to explore London, and walking tours have always been a relatively inexpensive way to experience another side of the city. For about $15, you can spend a couple of hours in the company of an expert guide walking in the footsteps of such well-known London residents as Dickens or Shakespeare. Walks taking in some of London’s best pubs or exploring its haunted sites are also popular.
In recent years though, the Jack the Ripper walk has become one of the most popular. Interest in this notorious killer who terrorized the streets of east London at the end of the 19th century, often described as being the world’s first serial killer, has never been stronger. A recent documentary on American television claiming that the notorious American serial killer HH Holmes and Jack the Ripper were the same has only added to the interest and the controversy.
Several different companies offer Ripper walks and most leave from Tower Hill, on the edge of the Whitechapel district where the murders took place. Walks take in all the murder sites, although not necessarily in chronological order. If you go on one of the Ripper walks, you may be lucky enough to have acknowledged Ripper expert Donald Rumbelow as your guide. All the guides are knowledgeable, however, and do an excellent job of making the experience intriguing and conveying the atmosphere of Victorian London. At one point on the walk, the residents of a nearby apartment building routinely get their evening entertainment by shouting and whistling at Ripper tour groups, although this impromptu street theater shouldn’t detract from the overall experience.
One of the drawbacks of the walk is that there is, of course, nothing really to see, other than the sites where the murders took place. Some of the guides’ descriptions of the killings and the state of the mutilated corpses tend to be quite graphic, although most participants don’t seem to mind. Furthermore, with most of the area extensively altered or redeveloped, you’ll usually find yourself standing in front of modern office buildings trying to imagine the scene as it might have looked over 100 years ago.
There are several places on the walk where things have not changed much in over a century. Especially as it starts to get dark, you can feel the atmosphere. You can still see a few of the original shops and street name signs if you know where to look, and your guide will probably show you the wall where the Ripper supposedly chalked a cryptic message to the police.Jack the Ripper walks traditionally end at the Ten Bells pub, on the edge of the Whitechapel district. Not so long ago, this bar was renamed the Jack the Ripper, until accusations of lack of taste forced it to revert to its original name. Regardless, tourists usually crowd the tavern to slake their thirst, perhaps at the very table where the Ripper lured his unsuspecting victims to their deaths. From the pub, it is a short walk to one of the several underground stations to return to your hotel, or to the many Asian restaurants and sweet shops in Brick Lane.
If you’re looking for something slightly different, you should not miss this experience. Make sure you have a sturdy pair of walking shoes, keep an open mind as to the Ripper’s identity, and be prepared to be transported back in time.